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Salt Lake County OKs 'cool-off' year for ex-workers

But bill to reform campaign finance hits a new roadblock

Salt Lake County officials tackled the last piece of their ethics reform package Tuesday, approving a one-year cooling-off period before ex-employees can return to lobby the county.

At the same time, however, a controversial campaign finance reform measure hit another roadblock Tuesday, stalling a final vote on the issue County Council members have debated for months and unofficially approved last week.

"The fear is that we end up having a lot of darts thrown at it continually," said Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, who drafted the campaign finance reform and voted against postponing a decision. "There's a political undercurrent to this that I find a little disappointing."

But Council Chairman Michael Jensen asked the group for more time to clear up the issue of whether banning county contractors from chipping in for elections is unconstitutional. Wilson's reform repeals that ban, allowing contractors to pony up for candidates.

Former Acting Mayor Alan Dayton had instituted the ban in the waning days of the Nancy Workman administration. Revoking that ban has drawn ire from the Salt Lake County Republican Party, whose leader James Evans has vowed to take the issue to the voters if the Council officially passes Wilson's proposal.

"I need to be sure I base my vote on accurate information," Jensen said of his request to push back the decision.

But County Council members did approve a post-county employment ordinance, disallowing former county employees who left their job voluntarily from directly communicating for compensation with his or her former division for one year. The ban applies only to managers and administrators with exempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The measure is the third ethics reform approved recently by the council along with a conflict of interest ordinance mandating employees recuse themselves from decisions in which they have a financial interest in and a gift ban that took the gift limit for elected officials down to zero.

Councilman Mark Crockett had to do some last-minute tinkering to get the post-county employment ordinance passed Tuesday after division heads from the assessor's office and the surveyor's office raised concerns.

Assessor Lee Gardner said any county assessor would end up doing business with the county if he or she went into private business as an assessor. The reform, he said, would essentially prohibit ex-county assessors from putting their license and skills to use once they left the government job.

A change of language to exclude employees with professional licenses remedied those concerns, as well as fears by the District Attorney's office that deputy attorneys would not be able to become defense attorneys and face off against county lawyers in court under the law's original language.

"I think we're swatting at flies that don't exist here. We're trying to carve out all of these exceptions for something that really doesn't matter," District Attorney David Yocom said.

In other business Tuesday, the County Council approved another $85,000 grant to Utah Open Lands to purchase a 190-acre parcel in Emigration Canyon. County officials previously posted $400,000 towards the $1.4 million asking price, but Open Lands officials fell short.

Wendy Fisher, executive director of the open space group, said much of the shortfall was because a state grant request came in $100,000 less than expected. The group was able to raise $565,000 from community donations and grants with another $350,000 coming from the state-run conservation fund.

"We feel this is a tremendous project," Fisher said. "It is one of the last open space areas of significance in the canyon."


E-mail: estewart@desnews.com